No one is gifted grand slam titles but statistics reveal Rafael Nadal may have to dig as deep as he has in six years to snare a fourth US Open crown on Sunday.
Nadal hasn’t beaten a top-five rival in New York since taking down world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final at Flushing Meadows – 26 matches ago.
After enjoying a charmed run to the title in 2017, when Nadal’s highest-ranked scalp was the world No.28, he retired injured in last year’s semi-final against the third-ranked Juan Martin del Potro.
Once again he has made the title match without needing to beat a top-15 foe.
But in the fifth-ranked Daniil Medvedev, a winner of 20 of his 22 matches on hard courts over the American summer, Nadal on paper faces his sternest test at the Open in years.
“His summer is just amazing,” the great Spaniard said.
“But all his season is amazing. He started playing very well in Australia. He played the final in Brisbane, he lost a match with Novak (at the Australian Open) – he lost against the champion.
“He had a very, very tough battle there, too. After that he was very solid during the whole year.
“On clay he played very well. I heard, I didn’t know, but I heard in the past he was not a great player on clay, but this year he was a great player on clay, playing great matches, winning a lot of matches.
“Then the summer is just almost perfect. Final in Washington, final in Montreal, winning Cincinnati, final here already.
“He is the player who is in better shape on tour. I will face the player who is winning more matches of the year, and the player who is playing on the highest level since a while.”
With 50 match wins already, Medevev is the most prolific performer on tour in 2019.
But Nadal is the second most prolific with 46 wins, including a 6-3 6-0 mauling of Medvedev only last month in Montreal.
“It was a tough one,” the Russian said.
His energy was much higher than mine. He kind of, I would say, eat me on the court … he was only going harder, harder, faster, stronger, and I was only going down.
“It’s great that I have this experience playing him in the final of a Masters. I know what to expect. I know how to prepare for it.”
Victory for Nadal would pull the 33-year-old to within one slam of Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 men’s singles majors.
“Is true: I would love to be the one to have more, yes, but you cannot be all day frustrated or all day thinking about what’s your neighbour have better than you,” Nadal said.
“You have to be happy with yourself. You have to do your way. If you are the one to achieve more, fantastic. If not, at least I give my best during all my career. That’s all.”